It sounds like Brian Jean is flip flopping once again.
The leader of Alberta's Wildrose Party has been making hay over Bill 6 lately, new legislation that seeks to correct Alberta's potentially unconstitutional labour laws by extending Workers' Compensation Board coverage to paid farm workers and bringing workplace safety up to par with other Canadian provinces.
"What goes around comes around," Jean recently told one rally opposing these changes.
Funny thing about that, mind you – Jean didn't seem to think the proposed WCB changes he's currently opposing were such a bad idea eight months ago.
Back in March, Jean was asked if he supports "equal charter rights for Alberta farm workers" during a Wildrose leadership debate on CBC Radio's Alberta@Noon. Here's how Jean decided to respond:
"...I do believe that you can't have any rights unless all people are covered by those rights, so I think all people, all Albertans need to be protected.
But in this particular case, WCB obviously has some exemptions, one is small business owners as well, and the other of course: farmers. I do believe that we have to include them in that WCB coverage or, indeed, have a mechanism of equal value ... I do believe there has to be a mechanism in place, either a self-insured one or another one, or included in the WCB provisions."
Here's an audio clip of the the exchange:
And here's how some people reacted to Jean's answer:
Osinchuk and Brian Jean say they support extending WCB coverage to farm workers #ableg— Darcy Henton (@darcyhenton) March 17, 2015
Now that it appears Jean was okay with that idea eight months ago, what's his solution now? Teach people how not to injure themselves?
"Every time the government has done broad consultation in the past the verdict has been the same: 'Educate, don’t legislate.' If we truly want to improve farm safety, improved education is the most effective path forward: more awareness, better training materials, and recognition of the unique aspects of differing agriculture sectors."
What happened to all that talk about how no one has rights unless we all have rights?
What's really at stake here? As Bob Barnetson, Associate Professor of Labour Relations at Athabasca University, points out:
"Farming is one of Canada’s three most dangerous occupations, but the people paid to work on the province's farms have almost none of the rights enjoyed by other workers in Alberta. Under current rules, farm workers in Alberta have no right to know, for example, if the chemicals they are handling are carcinogenic, and no right to refuse unsafe work. Injured farm workers generally have no access to workers’ compensation, and there are also no child labour laws. Farm workers are also barred from choosing to work together for better workplaces by deciding to form a union.
Excluding farm workers from basic employment rights is not only unconstitutional, it also condones a Wild West mentality about farm safety."
Between 1990 and 2009, accidents on Alberta farms claimed 355 lives and 8,875 injuries serious enough to send workers to hospitals.
Since 2009, 112 farm workers have died in workplace accidents on Alberta farms.
Photo: M. Northam. Used under Creative Commons license. Wildrose Party.